Friday, December 29, 2006

The Suicide Rate Is Highest Among the Elderly

If you judge by the media and the public education programs, you might be inclined to think that
teenagers and young adults (aged 15 to 24) are the age group most likely to kill themselves.
Actually, they have the second-lowest rate of suicide. (The absolute lowest rate is among kids
aged 5 to 14; children younger than that are apparently deemed incapable of consciously
choosing to end their lives.) It is the elderly, by far, who have the highest rate of suicide.
In the US, of every 100,000 people aged 75 to 79, 16.5 kill themselves. For those 80 and over,
the rate is 19.43. This compares to a rate of 8.15 per 100,000 for people between the ages 15 and
19, and 12.84 for people aged 20 to 24.
As with every age group, men are far more likely to kill themselves, but among the elderly this
trend reaches extreme proportions. Of people 65 and older, men comprise a staggering 84
percent of suicides.
Because men commit the vast majority of hara-kiri among old people, looking at these male
suicide rates makes for extremely depressing reading. For guys aged 75 to 79, the suicide rate is
34.26 per 100,000. In the 80 to 84 group, men's suicide rate is 44.12. When you look at men 85
and older, the suicide rate is a heart-breaking 54.52. Compare this to the suicide rate for dudes in
their mid to late teens: 13.22 per 100,000.
It is true that suicide ranks as the second or third most common cause of death in young people
(depending on age group), while it is number 15 and under for various groups of the elderly.
Still, the suicide rate among the young is equal to their proportion of the population, while the
elderly are way overrepresented as a group. And old people are cut down by a great many
diseases and disorders virtually unknown to the young, which naturally pushes suicide down in
the rankings.
The reasons why this suicide epidemic is ignored are highly speculative and would be too
lengthy to get into here. However, we can rule out one seemingly likely explanation — suicide
among the aged is invisible because they usually O.D. on prescription drugs or kill themselves in
other ways that could easily be mistaken for natural death in someone of advanced years. This
doesn't wash, primarily because guns are the most common method of dispatch. Of suicides over
65, men used a gun 79.5 percent of the time, while women shot themselves 37 percent of the
time. It's hard to mistake that for natural causes.
The sky-high suicide rate among the elderly applies to the entire world, not just the US. Plotted
in a graph, suicide rates by age group around the globe gently curve upward as age increases.
When the graph reaches the final age group, the line suddenly spikes, especially for men.
Worldwide, men 75 and over have a suicide rate of 55.7 per 100,000, while women in the same
age group have a rate of 18.8. This rate for old men is almost three times the global rate for guys
aged 15 to 24, while the rate for old women is well over three times the rate for young gals in
that age group.

1 comment:

Santa Is Drowning said...

This is sad. Its interesting from a social and anthropological perspective as well.